- Eugenio Pizzuto sent off in opener, missed "special" match with Italy
- Mexico captain bounced back with vital goal against Japan in last 16
- Will lead El Tri in semi-final against the Netherlands in Brasilia
The draw for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™ presented Mexico’s Eugenio Pizzuto with a unique opportunity. A member of a family that is Italian on his father’s side, the Tri captain knew before travelling to South America that his side’s second group match, against Italy, would be a special one for his grandfather, Guillermo Gerardo.
The son of an Italian, Guillermo spent part of his childhood in the town of Termoli, on the Adriatic coast, before returning to Mexico, where he was born and where he stayed to start a family. His wife and he are currently in Brazil with Eugenio’s parents, and have been watching El Tri’s progress to the semi-finals – where they take on the Netherlands on Thursday – with interest.
The competition did not get off to the best of starts for the family, however, with the young Pizzuto picking up a red card in Mexico’s opening game, a goalless draw with Paraguay. With his grandfather looking on from the stands, the No6 left the pitch at the Estadio Bezerrao in tears, aware that he would be ruled out of the match against Italy, the land of his ancestors.
"Getting sent off in your first match at a World Cup is not easy to take," Pizzuto told FIFA.com. "I was frustrated but I knew the whole team would be behind me. My ancestry is Italian, a beautiful thing that my grandfather gave me. But that’s the way things work out sometimes.
"He’d have loved me to have played, but you never know; I might get the chance to play against them (the Italians) in another age group."
After missing out on the Italy match, which ended in a 2-1 defeat for the Mexicans, Pizzuto has since bounced back, helping his team finish third in the group and then win through to the last four. The midfielder even gained some personal redemption in the Round-of-16 tie against Japan, poking in from a corner to set his side on the way to a 2-0 win.
"Scoring at the World Cup was a dream come true for me," he said. "It’s something I’ve always dreamed about. I helped the team by scoring the opening goal and it was crucial to us going through."
Following their quarter-final win over Korea Republic, Mexico are back in action on Thursday, when they will do battle with the Netherlands in the semis at the Estadio Bezerrao in Brasilia (Gama). Two-time world champions in the age group, the Mexicans are looking to make it three in Brazil.
Pizzuto, who plays his club football for Pachuca, is aware of expectation on him to follow in the footsteps of Patricio Araujo and Antonio Briseno, who respectively captained Mexico to U-17 World Cup glory in 2005 and 2011. "The fact Mexico have won the World Cup twice before is a source of motivation for us because it shows we can do it too," he commented.
The Mexicans and Dutch crossed swords at a friendly tournament in the Netherlands in September, a game the visitors won. Pizzuto is confident they can repeat the trick this Thursday: "I’m going to bed dreaming of beating the Netherlands and then winning the title in the final," he said.
"They’re very tough opponents. They keep the ball really well and they’re very well organised," he continued. "But if we keep on playing the way we have been and keep sticking together, I’m sure we can get through. They’re a strong team and they won the European title. That doesn’t mean to say we can’t match them, though. We’re going into the game with that same mindset."